Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will delay the official appointment of controversial media adviser Ran Baratz until after this week’s visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry, according to Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
Netanyahu has reportedly pushed off the appointment for a third time, and has yet to present Baratz’s credentials to the state commission in charge of vetting candidates for high-level public posts.
Officials from the Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on the appointment, neither denying nor confirming the report.
The announcement of Baratz’s impending appointment earlier this month made international headlines when it was revealed that he had made highly derogatory comments on social media about President Reuven Rivlin and Kerry, and accused Obama of anti-Semitism.
“Allow me to diverge from my usual moderate ways and be a bit blunt,” he wrote in a March 3 Facebook post after Netanyahu addressed the US Congress on the Iran deal. “Obama’s response to Netanyahu’s speech – this is what modern anti-Semitism looks like in Western liberal countries. And it is of course accompanied by a lot of tolerance and understanding for Islamic anti-Semitism; so much tolerance and understanding that they’ll even give them [an atomic bomb].”
The appointment caused a mini-diplomatic crisis, coming just a week before a highly anticipated meeting between Netanyahu and Obama, their first in over a year. Ahead of the meeting, Vice President Joe Biden hit back at what he called the “terrible comments.”
Biden told the audience at the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial conference that “there is no excuse, there should be no tolerance for any member or employee of the Israeli administration referring to the president of the United States in derogatory terms. Period. Period. Period.”
His statement was greeted by applause from the thousands-strong audience, as he continued to condemn similar insulting statements directed toward Kerry. “There is no justification for an official Israeli voice degrading the secretary of state, who has worked so hard, so long for the security of Israel.”
Although Biden did not mention Baratz by name, he was the unquestionable target of the vice president’s ire.
Yedioth quoted sources close to the prime minister as saying that he is determined not to cancel Baratz’s appointment and therefore prefers to delay the confirmation until after Kerry’s visit so as to avoid further furor.
Kerry will meet Tuesday with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to tamp down the current Palestinian terror surge that is sweeping Israel. The secretary is not expected to focus on restarting peace talks or brokering any agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“We will talk to both sides about steps that we think they can take that can help to reduce tensions,” a senior State Department official said Saturday in a briefing ahead of Kerry’s visit to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah. Kerry is currently in the UAE to discuss the international coalition against the Islamic State group.
Asked about Netanyahu comparing the recent attacks in Israel to those in Paris that left at least 130 people dead, the official said that the State Department has encouraged both sides to “put an end to provocative rhetoric.”
He added, “I wouldn’t necessarily characterize what he said there as being provocative rhetoric in the sense of the violence on the ground here.”
On the recent announcement of the marketing of nearly 500 Jewish housing units in eastern Jerusalem, the US official said, “The Israelis have made settlement announcements repeatedly for decades now, and we continue to express our view very clearly publicly and very clearly privately on that… and we continue to do that. That would not be a reason for the secretary to come on this visit.”
JTA and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.